The world tips, throwing Joshua from his bed. He gets to his feet unsteadily, confused by his surroundings. Wooden walls and floor….a floor that’s still rocking under his boots. With more than a little trepidation, he pulls open the heavy door despite the protests made by the hinges. A larger room greets him, filled with barrels and crates. He can hear water now, the crash of ocean waves as he nearly loses his footing again.
He’s not surprised he’s on a ship. Ever since he was incarcerated for Holly’s murder he’s been plagued with dreams about water and the closer he gets to his execution, the worse they get. He scales the stairs leading up to the deck. There are few sailors, not near as many as an old schooner like this should have, and they’re all familiar. The prosecuting attorney, the judge…Holly’s father. They all glare at him as he steps onto the deck, then with a singularity of mind, they all begin to approach him.
Slow. Deliberate. They shout accusations, their words lost between each other and the storm, but Josh can taste their anger and hatred. He retreats slowly, away from their outstretched and taloned hands. He turns to run, but his steps feel slow, bogged down. Another waves surges over the side of the ship, knocking him down. He rolls onto his back, expecting to see his accusers inches away, but they’re gone.
Lightening strikes the deck, uncomfortably close to his feet. The wood ignites as if it were dry kindling. Josh scrambles away from the fire, running to the elevated aft deck. The masts crack and tumble over, splitting the starboard hull. As water rushes into the lower hold, the bow begins to drop.
Another wave sweeps across the deck as the tumultuous sea tips the ship on its side. As it capsizes, the ropes from the mast tangle around Josh’s ankle, dragging him into the ocean’s depth with it. He watches as the light on the surface grows dim the deeper into the water he goes. Air bubbles stream up. His lungs burn as the pressure on his chest continues to increase, and he gasps for air.
Joshua jerks awake, back in his cell. His heart races in panic at the detail he experienced in his dream, and he wonders if it will feel the same when he’s placed in the gas chamber to die. The lights turn on as he takes calming breaths, shattering any effect it may have. It won’t be long now.
Footsteps echo in the hall, heavy boots…one of the deputies coming to get him, he presumes. The door swings open without the normal commands for him to hold his hands out for cuffing, and he can see a mix of disdain and grudging acceptance on the officer’s face. “You’re a lucky SOB, Myers. Get up, come with me. Bring anything you don’t want to leave behind.”
Josh gets to his feet and picks up the only thing that has mattered to him all these years spent in the state penitentiary—a pencil sketch sitting on his small table. The paper edges are worn and tattered, as well it should be—he drew it nearly eight years ago. A feminine face stares back at him from it’s surface, young and carefree. Even in the graphite, her eyes shine and her smile is radiant.
With the picture of Holly gripped firmly in his hand, he walks ahead of the officer, turning as directed. They stop at the processing desk. Another deputy places paperwork in front of him, as well as a small plastic bag. “Sign here. This is saying that you’re being released on your own recognizance and these are your personal effects you had when you were arrested.”
Josh feels like his heart is beating out of his chest as he takes the pen in his shaking hand and scribbles out a signature. They give him civilian clothes to change into, then escort him to the gate. He prays that this time he’s not dreaming. Media is waiting at the gate; microphones are thrust into his face as questions are shouted at him from all around.
“How does it feel to be free?”
“How does it feel knowing you got away with murder?”
“Where will you go?”
“Is anyone going to meet you?”
“Did you know it was your victim’s cousin that pushed for DNA testing in regards to your case?”
He stills at the last question, shocked that anyone from Holly’s family would request such a thing. Before he has a chance to answer, a commotion arises from the back of the media crowd. The microphones redirect toward a woman getting out of a black Lincoln, and her honey-gold hair shines in the morning light. She elbows her way through until she’s standing in front of him. He stares at her, wondering how he hadn’t seen the familial resemblance between her and Holly yesterday during the interview. “You did this?” he whispers.
Amber Rose smiles warmly and gestures toward the car. “We have a guest room set up for you, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you need. Come. I’ll answer any of the questions you have when we get home.”
Josh feels emotions of elation and peace overcome him as he takes the first step toward his renewed life.